Sunday, 27 April 2014

An introduction to Homer and Virgil touching on The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid

The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid are world classics and have been translated to world languages and these immortal epics reflect the successes and failures of man in his tireless journey to civilisation. Homer has written the epics The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Aeneid is written by Virgil the great Roman poet. Homer’s two epic poems have become archetypal road maps in world mythology. The stories provide an important insight into early human society and illustrate, in some aspects, how little has changed.  Even if The Iliad itself seems unfamiliar, the story of the siege of Troy, the Trojan War and Paris’ kidnapping of Helen, the world’s most beautiful woman, are all familiar characters or scenarios. Some scholars insist that Homer was personally familiar with the plain of Troy, due to the geographical accuracy in the poem.
The Odyssey is written by Homer after the fall of Troy. Certain scholars believe that there are great differences in the style of the narration of The Odyssey from that of The Iliad. Both are long narrative poems, still the difference in the narrative styles are glaring. It is because The Iliad was written by Homer when he was young and brilliant in his intellectual power whereas he composed The Odyssey in his old age.  He made a novelistic approach in The Odyssey with more colloquial style of narration. He enriched his descriptive story with liberal use of simile and metaphor, which has inspired a long path of writers behind him. The two narrative poems pop up throughout modern literature: Homer’s The Odyssey has parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and his tale of Achilles in The Iliad is reflected in J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Fall of Gondolin. Even the Coen Brothers’ film “O Brother Where Art Thou?” makes use of The Odyssey.  Other works have been attributed to Homer, notably the Homeric Hymns. However, the two great epic works remain enduringly his.
The Greek poet Homer was born sometime between the 12th and 8th centuries BC, on the coast of Asia Minor. The Iliad and The Odyssey are written in Asiatic Greek dialect known as Ionic. Homer’s style falls more in the category of minstrel poet or balladeer. The stories have repetitive elements, almost like a chorus or refrain which suggests a musical element. But his works are designated as epic rather than lyric poetry. Homer is thought to have been blind, based on a character in The Odyssey, a blind poet/minstrel called Demodokos. There is long description in  the Odyssey how the blind poet Demodokos was welcomed into a gathering and regaled the audience with music and epic tales of conflict and heroes to much praise has been interpreted as Homer’s hint as to what his own life was like.  As a result the statues, busts and portraits of Homer have been made to look like an old singer with thick curly hair and beard and sightless eyes. Plato tells us that in his time many believed that Homer was the educator of all Greece. Since then Homer’s influence has spread far beyond the frontiers of Hellas (Greece).  The Iliad and The Odyssey have provided not only seeds but fertilizer for almost all the other arts and sciences in Western culture.  For the Greeks, Homer was a godfather of their national culture, chronicling its mythology and collective memory in rich rhythmic tales that have permeated the collective imagination. Homer’s real life may remain a mystery, but the very real impact of his works continues to illuminate our world today. The Asiatic Greek dialect, known as Ionic in which Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey were written, are so popular that this particular dialect became the norm for much of Greek literature even today.                        Kjt/16-12-2013

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